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I’m not a person who buys a jersey for just any Chicago athlete.
And I certainly never pull out my wallet immediately.
Stars have to be here awhile for me to even consider a purchase and even then they have to be on a Hall of Fame-type track. It’s why I have a closet full of Jonathan Toews sweaters yet am still playing wait-and-see for a Justin Fields jersey.
But I threw all hesitation out the window the first weekend of September 2018 when I bought a white Khalil Mack #52 jersey the minute the NFL Shop posted them for sale.
Do you remember that weekend? Can you recall the Christmas in September excitement you felt on waking up to a notification that Ryan Pace had pulled off a shocker trade with the Raiders?
I can. The Mack trade was the Bears pushing their chips into the center of the table to get a top 5 defensive player, a game-changing unicorn who could create edge chaos.
While the Bears may not know quarterbacks, they certainly know defensive stars and Mack looked capable of joining the team’s Mt. Rushmore one day.
Butkus. Singletary. Urlacher. Mack.
I couldn’t give the league my $120 fast enough.
Just under four years later, that jersey is already obsolete with Mack headed to the Chargers. The six-time Pro Bowler and 2016 defensive player of the year may one day reach the Hall of Fame with a couple of standout seasons in Los Angeles but he’ll do so without reaching that upper echelon of Beardom.
I don’t regret the buy, but the Mack era ends with him leaving a legacy similar to the one left by Julius Peppers — a stud defensive anchor who brought us great joy but never became a quintessential Bear because of the team’s larger failures.
In Peppers’ case, it was because much of his career had already been established by the time he arrived in Chicago at age 30. Though Peppers still had several great seasons of football in front of him, he was already known as a Panther. The Bears’ demise in the 2010 NFC championship game and a subsequent three-year tour with the Packers didn’t help matters.
In Mack’s case, it was Pace’s failed bet on Mitchell Trubisky and Matt Nagy plus some nagging injuries that limited his impact here. No one is becoming a team legend anywhere in just four seasons, the last of which featured only seven games.
We sure had some great times, though.
The first half of the 2018 season opener at Lambeau Field — which I watched while wearing that jersey — was the most giddy I’ve ever felt as a Bears fan. It made me wonder why football couldn’t always come that easy in Chicago.
(The less said about the second half, the better.)
There were also GIFs like this one …
… or highlights like this one …
Mack was a one-man wrecking crew, the living embodiment of the defense-first approach that fuels our fanbase. There were enough times that Mack came as advertised that only a fool would call the years he spent here a disappointment.
This was also a trade that had to happen. One of the big benefits the Bears received in switching from Ryan Pace to Ryan Poles is that there would be no sentimentality or an unwillingness to admit past mistakes. Mack was both banged-up and expensive at age 31 and it’s unlikely he would’ve still been around when the Bears return to being a playoff contender. Getting an extra second-round pick to stock a depleted stash of draft capital left by his predecessor was something Poles had to do.
But it sure all feels incomplete. All-world players wearing Bears colors are few and far between and it’s a shame his stay here was only marked by two abbreviated trips to the playoffs and a consistent presence on the injury report.
Whenever I thumb past that #52 jersey in my closet I’ll think about what was, but what also might have been.
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